Life ends at 45... Study reveals when our mental powers start to diminish

Huge survey carried out on Whitehall civil servants shows our brains peak earlier that we think

Hone those chess skills, pick up that crossword and solve the sudoku – a major study has found that our brains start deteriorating at the age of 45 – more than a decade earlier than had been thought.

Previous research had suggested that cognitive performance – memory, reasoning and comprehension skills – did not begin to decline until the age of 60.

But if the earlier onset is proved it could be a warning signal about dementia, which is set to become the major health challenge of the 21st century. Studies have linked modest differences in cognitive performance in early life with increased risk of dementia.

The study, conducted among Whitehall civil servants over a decade, found that among those aged 45-49 at the start there was a 3.6 per cent decline in mental reasoning in both sexes over the next ten years. Among those aged 65-70, the decline increased to 9.6 per cent among men and 7.4 per cent among women over the following decade.

Performance in reasoning, memory and verbal fluency were all affected. But vocabulary, which is known to be little influenced by age, was unaffected.

Participants were tested on their reasoning power with 65 questions involving multiplying two figures, completing a pattern or filling in a word sequence. They had 10 minutes, with the best getting all 65 questions right.

Two types of verbal fluency were tested by asking them to name all the animals they could think of in one minute and all the words beginning with "S". The top scores were 36 animals and 32 "S" words.

On memory they listened to a list of 20 words and had to recall as many as possible in one minute. The maximum score was 18. Archana Singh Manoux, who led the study by the Centre for Research in Population Health in France and University College, London, said: "Cognitive performance is complex. It is a combination of knowledge and speed. If you are looking for words but it takes you 10 minutes it is not much use."

The results demonstrated the importance of acting early to ward of premature mental decline. Diet, smoking, physical exercise were all important, she said, because emerging evidence showed "what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads".

Leisure activities also mattered. "If you play chess and can plan six moves in advance then you are probably going to be all right," Ms Manoux said.

The findings in the British Medical Journal, show a significant decline on all tests, except vocabulary. Although the decline was most marked in reasoning, it might turn out that memory decline was more significant in the development of dementia, she said.

She added: "There is a lot of research going on into Nintendo games for the elderly. The findings so far are inconclusive but that might be because the participants are too old and should start at a younger age."

In the BMJ, Francine Grodstein, of the Brigham and Women's hospital in the US, says the study has "potentially profound implications" for dementia by indicating that efforts to prevent it may need to begin in adults as young as 45.

Are you smarter than a 45-year-old? Take the test

1. Easy means the opposite of: Problem, simple, difficult, always, cannot.

2. 15 35 55 75 95: What number comes next?

3. Seed is to plant as egg is to: tree, bird, pollen, oats, potato.

4. Here are three figures, 234. Divide the biggest figure by the smallest and add the result to the figure printed immediately after the smallest figure.

5. Right means the opposite of

Action, good, careless, wrong, motive.

6. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Add the first five figures together and subtract them from the sum of the last four.

7. Army is to Navy as soldier is to: airman, sea, service, sailor, uniform.

8. If castle is bigger than cottage, write down the second of these figures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. If it is not, then write down the sixth.

9. 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6. What number comes next?

10. If G is the seventh letter of the alphabet and Wednesday is not a month of the year, divide 63 by 7. Otherwise subtract 3 from 5. Write down your answer.

11. Here are three figures: 672. Add the largest two figures and divide the total by the smallest figure.

12. Sky is to ground as ceiling is to: roof, down, floor, rug, high.

13. If 8 is more than 3, write down 7, unless 3 is more than 7, in which case write 8.

14. When is to where as time is to: how, why, space, length, relativity.

15. 0.9, 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.7. What comes next?

Answers

1. Difficult; 2. 115; 3. bird; 4. 5; 5. wrong; 6. 15; 7. sailor; 8. 2; 9. 1/7; 10. 9; 11. 6.5; 12. floor; 13. 7; 14. space; 15. 1.9.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine